Welcome to the "Crimes A to Z" section of FindLaw's Criminal Law Center, an alphabetical list of crimes containing definitions and other useful information about many of the most common criminal charges. To begin, select a crime from the list below.
Common Criminal Charges
Other Criminal Charges
A Broad Overview Criminal Law
Crimes are set forth in criminal statutes, which describe the prohibited conduct, the mental state or intent required for guilt, and the range of possible punishments. Felonies are punished more harshly than misdemeanors.
Federal, state and local governments enact statutes to criminalize conduct of particular concern to them. For example, a city may determine that it is a misdemeanor to panhandle, while the federal government decides that it is a federal crime to lie on an immigrant visa application. Some criminal charges have been around for centuries, such as robbery and perjury, while others are added over time. An example is the recent creation of the crime of cyber bullying. Once lawmakers adopt a statute, police officers and prosecutors are responsible for enforcing it.
Prosecutors have some leeway in deciding what criminal charges to bring, or whether to pursue the case at all. A prosecution formally begins with either a grand jury indictment or the filing of a criminal complaint. If the jury convicts, judges often follow sentencing guidelines that tell them how much weight to give to factors such as a defendant's past criminal convictions (if any) in fashioning an appropriate sentence.
The U.S. Constitution entitles people charged with crimes to numerous procedural rights, including Miranda warnings, a speedy trial, a right to be free from unlawful searches, and a right to confront accusers. A defendant who wishes to challenge a conviction or sentence can file an appeal with a higher court. There is also a separate method of appealing called petitioning for a writ of habeas corpus, which is a way of disputing the legal basis for one's imprisonment.
If You're Facing Criminal Charges, You Probably Need an Attorney
If you've been accused of a crime, it's important to know your legal rights. Because an encounter with the criminal justice system can have devastating consequences, be sure that you have a strong legal defense team in your corner. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney near you to learn more.